Dealing with the Stress of Raising Grandkids

by Paige Estigarribia
Dealing with the Stress of Raising Grandkids photo

Are you struggling with the stress of raising your grandkids? Taking in a grandchild will change your life and these steps can help make it work both for you and for them.

Chances are that you personally know a set of grandparents who are either raising grandchildren full-time or care for their grandkids for significant portions of the workweek. Or maybe you are a grandparent yourself, and you’re in the process of rearranging your life and schedule to accommodate a grandchild.

The change in routines can be stressful, so we reached out to Jerry Witkovsky, author of The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, for some tips on the best way for grandparents to deal with the stress of raising grandchildren. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What are some unexpected issues that can come up when a grandchild begins living with a grandparent?

Jerry Witkovsky: A grandchild moving in with a grandparent is a grand opportunity to build bonds that will transform each generation beyond their imagination. However, the circumstances leading to this new connection can be difficult or even tumultuous.

Perhaps it’s more helpful to assume that everything is unexpected. Whether acknowledged or not, both grandparents and grandchildren have unspoken expectations. Different houses have different rules, so talking about that upfront can start the relationship off right from the beginning.

Some families have created a “rules of the house” sheet. Using a big “flipchart” or poster paper, the grandparents and grandchildren can create a list of rules that gets posted in a visible spot. Rules can include “no TV until homework is done,” “no cellphones at the dinner table,” and “Friday night is pizza night.” This is a chance for grandparents to let kids know their “non-negotiable” rules, but also gives a platform for grandchildren to share some of their expectations and feel some control over their new living environment.

Another idea is to create a Vision Board together. This makes a fun art project, as grandparents and grandkids clip pictures from magazines about what their life will be like together and put it into a collage. Things that may come out of this might be what kind of language is accepted and what is not accepted.

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Q: Miscommunication can be stressful. As a grandparent, are there ways to successfully communicate with grandchildren when they are living with you?

Jerry Witkovsky: Setting a pattern and environment of good and open communication from the beginning can help to avoid or at least ease miscommunication down the line. Perhaps dinner can be a time for each family member to highlight their least and most favorite part of the day.

Grandparents (and grandkids) can also always be armed with open-ended questions as conversation starters. Ask questions like “What did you learn in history today?” You’ll get much better results with this than with questions like “How was school?”

Using feedback tools like paraphrasing or repeating back something that has been said to confirm understanding can help. And, listen to understand the child’s patterns. For example, asking if there is homework due tomorrow might elicit a “no” if there are no specific assignments due the next day, when there actually is a test or upcoming project that needs to be worked on.

And embrace repetition. If it was right and true the first time, it will be right and true the tenth time. Just know it comes with the territory.

Q: In today’s world, raising children is different than in the past. How would grandparents go about teaching values to a grandchild living with them?

Jerry Witkovsky: When it comes to values, are there any guarantees that our grandchildren will actually embrace our legacy? Will they proudly transmit our cultural or religious heritage? Will they treasure our Bubbie’s handwritten recipe book from the old country? Will they teach their own children to love the hometown team? The reality is that there are no guarantees of any of it.

Through ongoing teaching and learning throughout our lifetime and by the example of how we’ve lived each day, our grandchildren will know what our values are and why they matter to us so deeply. Even if they don’t share all of these values or even agree with them, they will respect them.

We hope that they will grow into people of strong morals, passions, family-feeling, and convictions and be people who will strive to leave behind their own meaningful legacies.

Values discussions can be inserted into day-to-day activities. Set up recycling in your home, and as you separate recyclables together, talk about how this connects to the value of caring for the environment. Visit cultural and ethnic museums, communities, and events and talk about the value of diversity and inclusion. Give a gift of “The Four Jars,” marked “Giving,” “Saving,” “Spending,” and “Investing.” Whether they are given coins as a young child or an allowance as they get older, let them choose how they will divvy up the money and connect it to the values of caring for the world, planning for the future, and nurturing oneself.

Respect each other’s values and know that your grandchild also has ideas and interests to share with you as well.

Q: School can also be stressful for both grandchildren and grandparents. Are there ways that grandparents ease the stress for themselves and their grandkids?

Jerry Witkovsky: Grandparents will now be playing the role of parent and this includes being the child’s number one advocate, particularly as relates to school and ensuring the best education for the child. Even though it is the grandchild coming to live in the world of the grandparent, it is incumbent upon the grandparent to enter the grandchild’s world. How? Visit the school website. Sign up for the school’s weekly email blasts. Get the schedule of activities and attend everything you can. Visit the teachers’ websites. Find out about the “parent portal” where grades and assignments are posted (that’s where you can double check that “no” really is the answer to whether or not there is homework due). Read the book they are reading in English to discuss it with them. Ask about their friends. Make sure they have what they need to be prepared for school (and know that at least once or more they will tell you at 10pm the night before they need something the next morning). Help them to succeed.

Try to know and support your child’s strengths. If they are managing their assignments on their own (as demonstrated by grades), then compliment or reward them for this. Do they need you to be in the room when they are studying to keep them on track? Do they have access to a computer or the technology they need to complete assignments? And do you have basic computer knowledge to support them? If not, your local library or senior center may offer free classes.

Q: What would you advise grandparents as far as dealing with additional lifestyle changes that come with raising grandkids?

Jerry Witkovsky: The old adage, “the only constant is change,” applies here. Whatever the circumstances that have brought the grandchild to live with the grandparent, this is a time to share your unconditional love, patience, sense of humor, and passion for wanting to develop the best in the child. And don’t be afraid to ask for help and create a community to support you by connecting to the child’s school, your church, synagogue or religious community, your neighbors, and more. Be sure to care for yourself, so you can be there for your grandchild. They need you, and you have every right to be proud of what you are able to contribute to the life of this precious person.

Reviewed May 2021

About the Expert

A social worker by training, Jerry Witkovsky has been a beloved mentor to thousands of individuals and generations of families. In 1995, Jerry was named one of the city’s “Most Effective Nonprofit CEOs” by Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine. Jerry is a grandparenting activist, speaking across the country and setting up Grandparent Connection programs at area schools. He is also featured on radio, TV, and in the news, including as Senior Editor at GRAND Magazine. His book, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, is a Winner of GRAND Magazine’s 2016 Best Books for New GRANDparents Award.

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